Mini Lamb Koftas with Pomegranate Wine Sauce ~ a delicious appetizer inspired by one of the Middle East’s favorite meatballs!
Koftas are ground and spiced lamb, shaped into balls or ovals, skewered and then grilled. They are common all over the Middle East, but usually you see them full sized. I thought it would be fun to do a tiny version, just perfect for toothpicks and cocktails.
Just one pound of lamb makes an army of little kofta. You can make and shape them ahead and cook just before you need them if you want.
They cook up really quickly in a skillet so they’re great for entertaining. But I have to be honest, the Pomegranate Sauce has to get equal billing. It all started when my daughter and I stopped for lunch on our way home from a round of holiday returns. It was the same old story, we return a bunch of stuff I bought for her, and she finds a few things that she actually likes, things that I wouldn’t have picked out for her in a million years. It’s become a warm and fuzzy holiday tradition.
We chose a Middle Eastern restaurant in a mini mall. (In LA, some of the best ethnic restaurants are in mini malls.) We ordered Moroccan spiced lamb cigars and they came on top of the most amazing sauce we’ve ever had. It was simply called red wine sauce. It was thick, blood red, sweet/tart, and heavily (heavily) spiced with cinnamon. I asked about it but all they would tell me was that it was made with red wine. I could taste pomegranate as well as the cinnamon, and I was pretty sure I could recreate it.
I tried once and it wasn’t quite right. The second time I hit it right on. There was a lot of oohing and ahhing in the kitchen as we tasted it. It’s incredible. Thick, syrupy, winey, sweet tart, with the surprise spicy heat of cinnamon. I’m pretty sure you’ve never tasted anything like it. There’s only one problem— in order to create this incredible sauce you need to reduce 2 cups of red wine and 2 cups of pomegranate juice down to just about 1/2 cup of syrup. Kind of a splurge. But worth it. And a little goes a long way. And anyway, we are celebrating the fact that it’s Friday, aren’t we?
When you bite into the kofta the lamb is moist and tinted a golden yellow from all the spices. There is a little kick of heat at the back of your mouth. The flavors are so bright and vivid in this appetizer, I hope you give it a try. The koftas are adapted from Rachel Allen, but the sauce is all mine!
Mini Lamb Koftas
1 onion, very finely minced
1 shallot, very finely minced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp minced fresh coriander
2 Tbsp minced fresh mint
1 lb lean ground lamb
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 Tbsp olive oil
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg. Mix in everything else, except the olive oil. Break apart the lamb into chunks as you add it to help evenly distribute it without over mixing. Although you want to get all the ingredients well combined, over working the meat will toughen your koftas. If your mixture is very wet, add a little more wheat germ.
- Using a tablespoon or small scoop, take a small portion of meat and roll it in your hands, first into a round ball to firm it up, and then back and forth to elongate it into an oval shape.
- Set the kofta on a tray and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This will firm them up further.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and brown the kofta on both sides. Continue cooking until they are cooked through and an instant read thermometer reads 160. This will only take a few minutes.
- Skewer each kofta with a long cocktail toothpick and serve with a small amount of the Pomegranate Sauce.
Pomegranate Wine Sauce
makes 1/2 cup of thick sauce
2 cups red wine
2 cups pomegranate juice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Bring the wine and juice to a boil in a saucepan. Continue boiling, uncovered, until the sauce is reduced and thickened, almost 45 minutes. Whisk in the cinnamon towards the end of the cooking. You should be left with about 1/2 cup of ambrosia! Don’t waste a drop!
Notes: I minced my onion, shallot and garlic in the small food processor because I wanted a very fine texture for my mini koftas. If you do this, drain the mixture well to get rid of excess water, I used a mesh strainer and a lot of liquid came out.
If you don’t want the wine sauce, serve these koftas with a simple Greek yogurt dip. Mix the yogurt with some lemon and cilantro or mint. Add a little tahini if you like.